Jennifer finds herself in an intense argument with her closest friend and they both storm off kicking and screaming at one another. She feels tense, upset, angry or even all of them at once as it all ends. These feelings in themselves are extremely uncomfortable to have to bear for her, so she chooses to distract herself by binging on an online series whilst indulging from one tub of ice cream to another until she feels she can do no more and stops both. Once she does, not only does every feeling from before come flooding back, but now she’s also criticising herself for her weight. She’s no longer as intense as before, just downright demoralised and her thoughts begin playing on loop, with each loop causing her to spiral down into a state worse than before, as if the argument was the spark that needed to light the fire, but the loop itself was firewood that continued to fuel her distress.
I wanted to dig into the role of distraction in our lives: the situations in which it aids us, as well as the times it makes everything worse.
A Means Towards Patience
First of all, I wanted to go up the hierarchy a bit and categorise distraction as a means of diversion. Diversion is useful when you have no means of moving forward for the time being. Seeds don’t grow into plants right after you water them and place them in their appropriate environment; wounds won’t disappear after you’ve treated them; emotions won’t always instantly dissipate because you’ve accepted them. When our negative thoughts can cause our minds to spiral down a rabbit hole of doom and gloom, diversion is a means with which we can give a situation the chance to progress before we take anything further and damage it through our haste. If you choose to water a plant after you’ve already watered it, you risk drowning it; if you attempt to act as if you were never wounded after you’ve treated it, you risk opening it once again; if you think that your emotions follow your wishes when and where and how you please, they simply end up gnawing stronger within you. Diversion helps us to shift our attention onto something else until we can act further on a matter. However, we can take steps to increase the likelihood that those opportunities will begin to open up in the first place. Plants need to be watered; wounds should be treated; emotions should be processed.
In the case of Jennifer, she chose to divert her attention from the conflict through maladaptive strategies that prevented her from addressing the discomfort she felt from the event until she tired herself out through the diversion itself, only to find that the issue was still there, knowing she was going to have to face the effects of it later in some form or another. As she hadn’t placed any consideration as to how she’d repair the condition, her attempt to divert her attention made her too tired to do so once the diversion ended. She didn’t need to create some foolproof plan for the future for the diversion to act towards her favour, she only needed to accept what had happened, consider what she needed to do to minimise the damage for later, then have faith that the situation could get better. Once that’s done, her thoughts will most likely begin to fall into pessimism once again. This is natural, but diversion now becomes a means with which she can halt them. Those thoughts won’t disappear instantly, but by choosing to address the event first, as well as her feelings towards it, those thoughts are far more likely to have settled once the diversion ends.
Types of Diversions
Diversion in the broad sense is a strange matter because sometimes the best thing you can do is divert your attention away from something in order to allow it to develop for the best. Depending on the actions you take as a means of diversion, you can even give yourself the chance to become a better person, exactly so you could better face the situation that you’re having to address.
Let’s go back to Jennifer’s case once again. Maybe she could’ve called her friend and apologised for the moments in which she made everything worse, yet her friend was still too upset to let it go at that instant. She could consider buying a gift to as a show of hope that their friendship could still continue, she could’ve done a bunch of stuff. But the shop is closed, she doesn’t have the materials she needs to make something that her friend would like and her friend is still too upset to accept it anyhow. At that point, leave it alone. Then again, our emotions won’t let our minds do that, so sometimes even an external voice can help to cut the loop and remind us that we aren’t defined by our thoughts. Sometimes that external voice is better off switching topics if you want that loop to shut down and remember that life goes on. She can instead get some sleep, eat well, relax. Those actions can be considered diversions as they aren’t directly tied into the situation and relevant to life in general, but by extension, that means someone is more likely to be able to repair the relationship because they were able to sleep, eat well and relax. If she’d been building her character in general, she may have even been able to avoid this situation and the discomfort that came along with it altogether by not allowing it to get out of hand in the first place, even though she might never have meant for it to specifically prevent this.
Diversion takes many forms and can simply mean the stuff you do that isn’t directly relevant to what you’re after. Alternatively, you can see it as an indirect means of advancing the matters that you’re directly after. It’s what you choose to do in your free time. I’d consider reading books, practicing a skill, exercise as a type of diversion in that they aren’t tied in to anything specific and can benefit our lives in general, but it doesn’t mean you get to chastise someone who wants to enjoy themselves with something that does less than that. Even good health that leads to a long life may turn out to be of little benefit to us if we don’t do anything with it. Anything taken to excessive levels and twisted out of context in relation to everything else can be bad for you, even if it was originally intended to be good for you. I think of it in terms of the donkey that carries many holy books on its back. It has the books it needs to be successful, but no means to make sense of it, so the books it carries are of no benefit to it.
The Value of Purpose
After all’s been said and done, I feel that it ties in well with what it means to have purpose.
What are you after?
It’s an interesting question to ask when viewed through the lens of diversion. If you value character, then the matters in life become a diversion with which you can better it, like the wealth we gain. If you value wealth, then character instead becomes a diversion you can use to build the wealth you seek. If you can place your values in the right place, you can draw in everything else with one swoop. Likewise, when your values are in the wrong place, everything becomes complex and it feels like you’re accounting for a thousand different matters at once, even though those two scenarios seek similar things.